A big thanks to everyone who submitted questions to Pure Planet's co-founder and CEO Andrew Ralston. We had some great questions - and so here are your answers. Nice one for taking part in the Pure Planet Community’s first ‘Ask Me Anything’ feature! If this is popular we could run a similar Q&A every few months, with other people involved in sustainable energy, and in energy and the environment in general. 1. What was the inspiration to jump from telecommunication to energy? We were inspired by the opportunity in the energy sector to innovate and make a difference. We saw the potential to launch a really exciting, app-based supplier that could offer renewable electricity for less cost than polluting power. We believe a digital, smart service - coupled to a sustainable offer which is good for savings and the planet - was the way to go. We experienced a similar feeling when we launched Virgin Mobile back in 1999, we were able to bring a very different approach to the mobile phone market - delivering a focussed and innovative, customer proposition which was one simple, great-value tariff with no stings in the tail. You could say Pure Planet is offering something similar today! At the time Virgin Mobile launched, the mobile companies had a poor customer service reputation. We turned that on its head, and very quickly became renowned for innovation, service and trust. We see a very similar opportunity in the energy sector, and passionately want to bring our experience from our years in telecommunications, the digital industries - and specifically Virgin - to bear. 2. Where do you see Pure Planet in five years? Good question. In five years, we’d like to see Pure Planet as a well recognised & trusted business that has played an instrumental part in encouraging the majority of homes in Britain to have switched to renewable energy. We’d like our members to be proud of being part of that movement - for having made a difference to our climate, and the purity of the air we all breathe. Similarly, for the people who ever worked within it, we’d want them to feel a purposeful sense of achievement for having played a part in its success. Lastly, but by no means least, we’d like to be achieving sustainable growth, profitable, and expanding to be able to attract even more people to renewables. 3. What are your future plans for growth? Pure energy supply or links to other environmental tech such as generation, storage? An IPO maybe of interest? The energy market is on the cusp of enormous change and innovation - in the ways you’ve identified in your question - and even more besides. For example, I think the use of electric vehicles will grow significantly in the next 5 years, outstriping many current predictions. So will battery storage. And so will the way we interact with our energy as consumers - smart meters are the gateway to many of these innovations, but so are apps, and putting energy at people’s fingertips. We can, and will, play a part in many of these innovations. But for the immediate future we’re focused entirely on developing the core energy supply business. We’ve made a great start, with some true innovation, but there’s a lot more to do.
4. You must feel so proud with how much you’ve achieved since 1999. I was with T-Mobile (and 121 before that!), with a superb family mobile phone contract. The customer care back then reminded me of what we have now with Pure Planet, to a degree. I’d like to know when are BT fully taking over EE or isn’t that happening? That’s kind of you to suggest that. If I’m honest, I don’t look back too much in that way. I am incredibly proud of what the entire team we worked with all achieved with Virgin Mobile. That was by far the best time of my career up until we started Pure Planet. We certainly created a very successful business with Virgin, and I learnt so much. More valuable than anything we had an amazing team of people in that business, many of whom I count as great friends today. The ethos that Richard Branson established within his businesses was tremendously powerful, and we’d love to emulate that in Pure Planet. We had great times at Orange, T-Mobile and EE too - but Virgin was the most rewarding. Steven, Chris and I, may be the founders of Pure Planet, but we’re also good friends who really enjoy working together. And we feel really excited and proud of the team of people who have joined us to build and develop Pure Planet. The ethos we have in Pure Planet is very similar to the early days of Virgin Mobile, but is more relevant for the modern world - smart, shared & sustainable.
5. Moving from the phone industry, to energy, to set up PP, was this a heartfelt passion you’d always had, ie preservation of the planet, OR was it more about a desire to move into a different business, and set something up from scratch in a cutting edge way (ie web based provider of renewable energy) and the saving of the planet came hand in hand with that? A mixture of both - as I said earlier, we saw the commercial opportunity to create a business that would innovate in the energy sector, and we’re committed to building a profitable and for-purpose business. The opportunity to play our part in helping to create and build something which ultimately improves the planet as well as provides the absolute essential of clean energy to people’s homes is just so rewarding. 6. Just curious as to how it all came about. More a business head or a passion from your heart? Both are commendable! An equal mix of both!
7. How do you source your clean energy and are there audit trails in place to make sure it really is sourced from renewables? All our electricity is 100% renewable and is backed by certificates. We’ve bought only power sourced from wind and sunshine so far, and we may add water to our mix in future. We source all our energy through BP, which has the biggest energy trading desk in Europe and is one of the biggest renewable energy traders in the world. There is a tightly controlled and highly audited process to cover the source of the power, administered by Ofgem, through which we certify that all the electricity our members consume in any one year is matched by the equivalent amount of electricity generated by wind and solar going onto the national grid on their behalf.
8. As you are growing you may one day reach critical mass. How are you going to ensure that you maintain your (excellent and personal) level of customer service (which by-and-large is down to your great staff and sometimes despite the technology, which is improving slowly), if you do grow quickly? We believe digital is the future - apps and smart devices are such a part of our daily lives now, that we think great service today, and in years to come, will be instantaneous, personalised and highly relevant. Digital service helps achieve this, helping people get what they want, whenever they want it, smoothly, simply, and unobtrusively. We must balance the growth in our membership with the investment we make in our technology and our people. It’s imperative we continue to deliver the customer experience we’ve started out with. We’ve improved our technology platforms significantly even since we launched at the end of last year and we will continue to do so. For example, we’re shortly going to be upgrading the technology behind WattBot - she (or is it a he?) is about to go in for her first “brain transplant” which will increase her ability to support our members. It’ll answer more questions first time; it will learn through time better; and it will be much easier to deal with as a member. Also, we’ve just last week invited a number of our wonderful community members to visit us in Bath to discuss how we can support them and to seek their input to some future improvements we’re aiming to make to our service and proposition. And with our team - we’ve got a fabulous bunch of people running Pure Planet, this doesn't happen by accident - we’ve put a lot of time and effort into selecting our team, and we will keep making sure they have the best working environment and support to do the best job they can. So, the short answer to this question is striving to constantly improve, and being always aware of the balance between ambition and ability. 9. How do you go about setting up a new energy company from scratch? It’s not easy! There have been a lot of new suppliers coming into the market over the last few years and even with the basic process is well tried and tested there is a lot else to get right: your proposition, your people, your funding, and your technology. Ofgem, the regulator, is currently reviewing this process and the criteria by which they award licenses to operate as a supplier. We wanted to make sure we launched and built a robust, scalable and differentiated business so we spent the best part of a couple of years working on planning the business, securing funding and identifying the right partners for us, before we started the formal process of actually building the business.
Once you’re ready to go live as a supplier, there is a formal process known as Controlled Market Entry, where the regulations cap the number of customers you’re allowed to bring on supply, and they then come and audit your systems and processes to make sure they’re fit for purpose. We entered this period at the end of March last year (2017) and were given approval in August to launch commercially, which we did in September.
10. What are your aspirations, going forward? Do you aim to make PP as huge as the big six, or are you already thinking of moving on now, and happy to leave what you’ve successfully started, in safe hands? Neither Steven, Chris nor I have any intentions of going anywhere else! We’re immensely excited about Pure Planet and its opportunities. The interest we’re getting from consumers around the country is tremendous, even so early in our brand’s young life. We know we can offer a really attractive alternative to the big six: better prices; smarter service; and a renewable, good-for-the-planet service. We’re enjoying it, and we want to see Pure Planet grow and thrive in this competitive market.
11. Who was your inspiration growing up? Dead/alive/famous/not famous. Just curious as to who or what even, made you go down the road you went down? I had a wonderful childhood. I grew up in Northern Ireland among a close, loving family. I loved my time at school, but was not particularly academic. I had many great influences on my life but my Grandfather was undoubtedly my biggest inspiration growing up. He was a huge influence on me during my early years. As a successful businessman in his own right, he showed me that hard work, self-belief and working as part of a team is enormously satisfying. Thankfully for me, qualifications and exam results are not the only route to success! Later in life, I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and learn from, a wide range of people, from Richard Branson, Tom Alexander, and my colleagues at Virgin through to today and our team Pure Planet. My first boss when I moved over to England to work all those years ago, became a good friend and he was one of the very first to sign up for Pure Planet!
12. Do you have time for any interests outside of PP, or does your work take over 24 / 7 with little time to switch off? Work is a big part of my life for sure, but it's by no means the only thing I do. My wife and I have a quite a few children between us and in the last year or so our first grandchildren arrived, which keep us very busy. My wife and I are both active by nature. We have a dog which the kids all think is spoilt, and treated better than any of them ever were, which means we manage to hit our daily exercise targets! Having grown up near the sea, I love sailing, and will get on the water as often as I possibly can.
13. What would your epitaph be please? Gosh - I’ve never considered that before. I guess: “A loving husband & father whose wife and children were proud of and know just how much he loved them”. And then as a Pure Planet founder and passionate Irish rugby fan: “The world became so much more green during his life!”
14. What would you say to all those people who want to join Pure Planet but don't have a smart phone/are not tech savvy? We recognise that there are still some people who don’t want a smartphone or tablet and we respect their views. For anyone who hasn’t yet tried to use their smartphone for services such as energy, I would urge them to give it a go. The overwhelming feedback we get is “it’s so easy and so convenient”.
15. In your opinion, what sets Pure Planet apart from players such as OVO, Ecotricity, Bulb, Green Energy etc? We love what companies such as Ecotricity and Good Energy, and more recently Bulb, have been doing to spread the renewable message. There is room in the market for all of us if we are going to be successful in making Britain 100% renewable in our lifetime. We need other renewable businesses to be successful too, so we applaud the job the other green players are doing. How are we different? Pure Planet is fantastic value - depending on your energy use we are the cheapest renewable supplier on the market today. We might not always be the cheapest - that depends as much on others as ourselves! - but we promise always to offer exceptional value, fairness, and transparency. We’re app only, designed for the smartphone and tablet world so you have access to your energy and account whenever and wherever you like. We’re the first to offer a simple, clear monthly charge per fuel - instead of a complicated daily rate to four decimal places that nobody understands! Coupled to that, we’re the first to offer energy at the price we pay for it, at zero markup. Our margin is contained in the monthly charge, which means the cost of your energy is always fair. We’ve got a great referral scheme - connect a friend and you both get £25 in Amazon vouchers. We’re the only independent supplier to have signed up to the UN Global Compact, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. We’re a Living Wage and Disability Confident employer. And we’re the first energy business in Britain to offer its staff absolutely equal parental rights and entitlements - whatever their gender, however they have a child. We like to think of all of this as sustainable, smart and shared - that’s what sets Pure Planet apart.
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